In Judaism, there’s a beautiful gravesite tradition where the rabbi cuts a part of the mourners’ shirts, about where the heart is located. Those closest to the deceased wear the ripped shirt every day during the first week of mourning to symbolize and remind us and the community how our hearts are torn apart.
The shirt I wore the week my father died was eventually thrown away, but my heart is still torn apart.
This Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.
As I write this, I am torn apart by fresh primal grief, as he died only a couple of months ago.
As I write this, I feel a plethora of emotions — from feeling lost and angry to grief-strickenly sad.
But this Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.
This post celebrates my father and contains 20 facts that will help you know the kind of man my dad was.
1. As mentioned in a previous post, my dad survived the Nazi peril. He made the most of his life in America, despite frequent anti-Semitic jabs from co-workers (yes, it was accepted back in the day). On workdays, he often woke up at 2:30 a.m. and came home around 6 p.m. A punctual man who had a weakness for donuts and such, he would get to his favorite donut place each day, have a danish or donut, and still have time to be early for work.
2. He understandably loved bakeries.
3. He had an aversion to tardiness.
4. His work ethic was that of superstar. He had a manual-labor job in the food industry, where he worked until he retired. He was never late to work, labored in all kinds of brutal conditions — in a warehouse with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer — and hardly ever called in sick.
5. The plus side of having a dad who works in the food industry is that he loved being creative with food. I always had watermelon baskets for my birthday parties, as well as fun, delicious finger sandwiches.
6. Speaking of fingers, my dad almost lost his in heavy machinery several times. OSHA-who?
7. He had a penchant for work. Even after my parents retired and moved to Florida, he worked as a pool security guard. He no longer had to work for financial reasons; he just wanted to work.
8. He was an uncomplicated man — he loved his family, friends, and work. That’s it.
9. He was an extrovert. He loved people and was never shy. Everyone who met him loved him. I’m more of a shy introvert, so our personalities clashed sometimes.
10. He and my mom were champion ballroom dancers. I’m not exaggerating; they won some very impressive awards way before Dancing with the Stars was ever conceived. In fact, my parents were the stars of many a dance hall — from his younger years to his retirement years.
11. My dad’s love of dancing got passed down to me. He used to ballroom dance with me and teach me all the moves (I never retained all of the ballroom dances and, if asked, couldn’t recall them now). He and my mom supported my years of tap dancing lessons.
12. After my recitals, my parents wanted me to feel special, so we usually all went to a diner for a treat to celebrate my dancing prowess.
13. Despite our limited financial means, my dad always managed to treat his and other kids to treats such as ice cream and admission to movies and museums. He was an exceptionally generous man.
14. My dad would frequently talk Yiddish with our relatives. When the individuals in our family wanted to keep my brother and me out of a conversation, they turned to Yiddish. Luckily, I learned Yiddish through my paternal grandmother during my formative years. My dad would embarrassingly say to them, “Zi farshteyt” (“She understands.”) And I did. I’m no longer fluent in Yiddish, but I loved hearing my relatives speak it, and I relish my Yiddish-speaking days. I will always love the language of my father and our family. In fact, my friends can tell you that I often pepper my English with Yiddish words and phrases.
15. My dad and brother loved playing catch together. They also wrestled on my parents’ bed, which would sometimes collapse as a result, and to my mom’s dismay.
16. My dad was a big kid with an infectious sense of fun. He was often goofy and immature. Also to my mom’s dismay.
17. He didn’t care for all the music I was a fan of, but he tried to be. We spent hours together, when I would play my favorite songs for him on the stereo. He fed into and expanded my love of music by purchasing 45s (remember those?) from a record machine in the grocery store and surprising me every week with a new record.
18. He always cared about making life convenient for me, even if his life was made less convenient by it. When I volunteered at an animal hospital during my teens, my dad would often try to save me the long ride home via two buses. He’d pick me up. And there happened to be a Carvel ice cream shop right next to the animal hospital, so….
19. My dad had real values that he passed onto his children. I hate it when politicians preach “family values.” But my dad’s basic values were real: they included treating others with respect, working hard, not giving up easily, not taking ourselves seriously but taking what we do seriously, and trying our best with whatever endeavor we undertake. His mantra to my brother and me were to always try our best and not to let go of our dreams. I’ve passed these values down to my daughter, as well.
20. When I was an insecure teenager, my dad gave me the most powerful gift I’ve ever received, an anonymous poem called “Don’t Quit.” I taped it to all my books and read and re-read the poem all the time. It helped me succeed academically and deal with my insecurities. To this day, it remains my favorite poem and was poignantly read by the rabbi at my dad’s gravesite. The text of this poem is provided here.
Yes, my dad will always be alive within my heart and my family’s hearts. But that won’t make this Father’s Day any easier; in fact, this holiday will be so difficult to bear. But I will honor and celebrate Father’s Day by never letting go of my dreams and never quitting.
How will you spend Father’s Day?
Are you missing your father or guardian?
Please feel free to share something about your father/guardian; I’d really like to hear about him.
Tags: coping with grief, family values, Father's Day, father's death, grief